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However, Daniel never did show. Not even when the power went out. Julip wasn’t too worried. She thought of it all like a giant thunderstorm. Soon everything would be okay and the power and the lights would come back on and her cousin would be home with takeout. A week later, fires had sprung up all over the state. Large holes in the ozone prevented fire crews from putting the fires out. The state was wrecked and there was no help coming. None of the harmful UV rays were blocked. Anyone who had tried to go outside risked the potential for being severely burned by solar radiation. Julip had used the last of her batteries to hear the radio transmission warning of another solar event. This time earth wouldn’t be spared the brunt of it like it had in recent years. This time the amount of radiation hitting earth would be equivalent to the amount of radiation constantly hitting Mars, their barren, scorched neighbor- ing planet. “You okay?” Jeb said, pulling Julip out of her thoughts. She nodded and tried to smile, but the horrific memory of the Earth falling to destruction hit Julip hard. It’d been two years, and she still didn’t have anywhere to go. She had only half-thought-through plans and foolish dreams. Things were just coming together. It had started to rain again, plants were starting to grow in certain places. Large cities had been hit the hardest, ran- sacked and burned into ash and soot. Those cities were wastelands. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking.” Jeb nodded. “Been doin’ a lot of that lately. Thinkin’ of the Arid.” Julip looked at him, wondered where he had been when it all came crashing down. “You were here when it happened?” “Lived in Utah. Small town, Paddock. Watched my neighbor get microwaved to death in his car. First time I ever saw what the solar flares did. My family and I got the hell out of there quick and in a hurry.” “You guys moved out here?” Julip followed Jeb inside. “No, I found this place after I lost them—him.” Julip eyed Jeb; she remembered him talking about losing his son the year before to an infection. He never mentioned if he had a wife. “Your wife and son?” He swallowed hard at Julip’s gentle prying. She saw discomfort and pain spread across his face. “I didn’t mean to pry. I just . . . was curious. I’m sorry,” Julip quickly offered. Jeb looked up at her, his remaining eye welling with tears. “Haven’t said her name in months. Remember that river to the south that I was telling you about? That it flooded?” Julip nodded. “We got caught in it and Hannah lost her grip. She got pulled into the undertow and . . .” His voice was damp with tears, his throat making him hard to understand. “Jeb, you don’t have to. I understand. I’m so sorry for your loss.” Julip rested a hand on Jeb’s arm. Tears splashed over his sooty face, leaving clean lines in their wake. He shuddered and wiped his tears away. “This Arid, this brutality of nature, has taken everything I had, Julip. Everyone I loved, I watched them die. We came up here to get away from marauders. To hole up, to wait it out. David died and I lost it. I was in a bad place. Didn’t get up from that couch for weeks. I brought myself to hunt for the first time, and I found corn and potatoes growing in my garden, Julip. Corn. Potatoes. Growing.” A look of profoundness fell over Jeb’s rough, unshaven features. “This was my epiphany. My saving grace. My purpose. To live as I was intended to. Hannah and David would have wanted me to go on. And I feel them here with me at night, I can still remember Hannah’s perfume, David’s laugh. Those are the moments, Julip, that save me every day.” Julip swallowed down tears of empathy. She knew too well what it was like to lose everything in a matter of months. She knew the loss he felt. She remembered her parents’ voices. She remembered her mom’s smell and Dad’s aftershave. Jeb was right. Those were the moments that held her together. They were the rea- son she could wake up and continue on every day. As evening bled into night, Jeb brought out a shaggy afghan for Julip to cover up with. It smelled of a mixture of lotion and . . . blueberries? Something that smelled very good. Jeb noticed Julip smelling the blanket. “Like it? I make my own goat’s-milk soap. That one there is citrus and wild berries.” “Goat’s milk? I didn’t see any goats,” Julip said, suddenly interested. 29
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